Seven Meaningful Motifs in Victorian Jewelry (As Popular Today As They Were Then)
Whether you are spiritual, sentimental or superstitious, there are certain motifs in jewelry that you might want to add to your collection to bring luck, love, protection and empowerment to your life. These pieces reflect symbolism to which many women can relate: expressing your beliefs, representing your experiences or motivating change. And, they are as popular today as they were when they first came into fashion.
We chose seven talismans (a lucky number), which you can find in antique, vintage and modern interpretations with diamonds, pearls or precious stones. Although some of these motifs have been around since ancient times and in various cultures and civilizations, they were particularly strong during the Victorian Era, known for its symbolic jewelry. Therefore, we chose pieces from this period and some from the Art Nouveau Movement to represent the talisman you might want to add to your jewelry wardrobe. Remember you don’t need to stop at one—you can build a necklace, bracelet or a scattering of brooches to reflect the meanings that are most powerful to you and your life.
The crescent moon dates back to second millennium BC and is the oldest symbol known to man. It became most popular in jewelry in Georgian through Victorian times in brooches and then morphed into other styles such as pendants. Crescent moons celebrate the feminine moon goddess and therefore is associated with female empowerment. It also symbolizes change, as it turns into a full moon and then back, similar to the ebb and flow of life. Victorian brides wore brooches with a crescent moon cradling a flower on their honeymoon. These sweet styles are called ‘honeymoon brooches,’ which were said to represent ‘the magic of the moon and the sweet nectar of the flower.’
While we are looking to the sky for symbolism, stars are another powerful motif to collect, representative of guidance, leading you in the direction you were meant to go. Victorian stars often were accented with old cut diamonds for endurance. They were sometimes set with moonstone centers for added meaning. Legend has it that moonstones brought good fortune to the wearer and kept them safe from harm. It was also believed that if you put a moonstone in your mouth during a full moon, you would be able to see your romantic future.
The anchor is associated with sailors out at sea, protecting their homeland and discovering new lands and opportunities. Due to its original meanings, this symbol expanded to encompass hope and steadfastness. When combined with a cross and a heart, it is the well-known symbol of Faith, Hope & Charity: the cross for faith, the anchor for hope, and the heart for charity. Wearing anchor jewelry can remind you to never give up and believe that there is a brighter future ahead.
Symbolic bird jewelry usually features swallows or doves. When thinking about swallows, once again we look to the sea. In legend, swallows lead ships home when they were getting closer to land and prevented them from being lost. There are beautifully executed rose cut diamond swallows in pendants and brooches that mean safe home, or ‘to safely return home’. There are also connotations of faithfulness. Doves often are shown on intaglios and fobs with the word pax, (the Latin word for peace) holding an olive branch in their beak. These doves symbolize peace, friendship and the bringing of hope.
In Victorian times, the French “Saint Esprit” or Holy Spirit dove seems to be descending from heaven to earth with wings spread. It is a symbol of faith and was often bombe set with turquoise, which is meant to bring luck to the wearer. When it holds a heart in its beak, it symbolizes love.
Throughout history, the symbolism of the dragonfly is based on its agile movement and its life cycle. In certain cultures it is believed that, like the butterfly, dragonflies represent change and transformations in life and new beginnings, a belief that was also adopted by the Victorians. The dragonfly’s meaning goes more in depth to signifying embracing change rather than fearing it, with the ability to handle whatever the future may bring. Dragonflies were set with precious stones or seed pearls in the Victorian era and were also popular in Art Nouveau, often with lovely transparent enameling.
There is no motif more associated with luck than a horseshoe. These are as popular now as in Victorian times and are created in myriad gems and settings. Facing upward they bring luck to the wearer and facing downward, they send luck out into the universe. When combined in one piece with a four-leaf clover or shamrock, which also signifies good fortune, they are doubly lucky.
In many cultures, people use their hands to help convey emotions when communicating. Throughout history, shaking hands in friendship, holding hands in affection, or reaching out with a token of love to ask for a hand in marriage have all been captured in this expressive motif in antique jewelry. From ancient Roman times through the sentimental Georgian and Victorian eras, hands have held many messages: loyalty, strength, romance and fidelity. Antique brooches pendants and clasps holding a flower signifies a gift of friendship or a token of affection. If it is a forget-me-not, it might be in remembrance of a departed loved one. Decorative Georgian chains were fastened by gold dimensional clasps. The most charming and collectible of all variations of the hand are those that wear their own miniature pieces of jewelry, such as engagement rings and bracelets with vivid colored gemstones. This is definitely one form of antique jewelry that can be collected and worn today, and then handed down to the next generation.
Note: We plan on doing a full story on the many variations of hands in antique jewelry. And, Of course we have not forgotten hearts. We have just held on to them for their own story. There are diverse meanings to this precious symbol, depending on their shapes and with the other motifs with which they are paired. We look forward to showing you our hearts and reaching out our hands very soon.